Iraq to root out Al-Qaeda

Iraq to root out Al-Qaeda
# 25 January 2008 13:53 (UTC +04:00)
Iraqi forces were moving towards Mosul, 370 kilometres (225 miles) north of Baghdad, for a major assault that would become a "decisive battle," Maliki told an economic conference in the central shrine city of Karbala.
At least 35 people were killed and 217 wounded in a massive bomb attack Wednesday that obliterated a building and destroyed houses in Mosul, Iraq’s third main city and capital of Nineveh province.
A suicide bomber killed provincial police chief Brigadier General Salah al-Juburi and two other officers on Thursday when they went to inspect the previous day’s carnage.
"We have formed an operations centre in Nineveh (province) for a final war against Al-Qaeda and the remnants of the former (Saddam Hussein) regime," Maliki said.
"Today our forces are moving towards Mosul. What we have planned in Nineveh will be final. It will be a decisive battle," he said.
"The crime committed by Al-Qaeda on Wednesday in Nineveh is just the last of their resources. We have defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq and only Nineveh remains."
He warned that the Iraqi army was now a powerful force.
"We have a real Iraqi army. I want to say that to all those people who think they can do things in front of the Iraqi security forces that those days have gone."
US intelligence experts warn that Mosul remains a dangerous "strategic centre of gravity for Al-Qaeda" due to its road links to the Syrian border, which most foreign fighters coming into Iraq use as their springboard.
The jihadists can easily blend in with the local population, they say.
Three weeks ago, US and Iraqi forces launched a fresh assault against Al-Qaeda operatives, blamed for much of the violence in Iraq.
On Thursday, Maliki issued an angry statement saying that those behind the Mosul attacks would be hunted down and brought to justice.
"This crime exposes the moral bankruptcy of the terrorists after a string of defeats at the hands of our armed forces," he said.
Karbala, 100 miles (70 kilometres) south of Baghdad where Maliki was speaking on Friday, has also been the scene of violence, with insurgents late Thursday attempting to kill a leading Shiite cleric.
Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai survived the bomb attack on his convoy but two of his bodyguards were killed, officials said.
Another four guards were wounded.
Karbalai is the Karbala representative of Iraq’s Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and often leads Friday prayers in the Imam Hussein mosque, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines.
Speaking of the attack, Maliki said it was the work of "foreign intelligence services, ignorant people and remaining loyalists of the former regime."
He later Friday went to visit the cleric, who appeared relaxed and calm. Hospital officials said he had suffered only slight wounds in the attack.
In other violence on Friday, police said a man was killed and another wounded when their car was struck by a roadside bomb at Abu Saida near the Diyala provincial capital Baquba.
Diyala and Nineveh are among four north-central provinces that have been identified by the US military as the principal remaining centres of operations for Al-Qaeda fighters after they were pushed out of the Baghdad area. The other two are Tamim and Salaheddin. /APA/
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